Radio star reincarnated by empathyAnyone who’s been to the town of Yeongwol (or as the city calls itself “young world”) in Gangwon Province will know that the director Lee Jun-ik ―the same man who created “Royal Jester” ― has done an astonishing job with his film “Radio Star.”
The county, where the film mostly takes place, is known to Koreans as a small whitewater rafting town that has neither the pastoral glories of a rural village nor the glamorous skyscrapers of a big city.
Like many rural towns across Korea, Yeongwol is trapped somewhere in the past, a place that we can’t quite locate in either time or space. But that’s exactly the sentiment running through the film ― we are invited to empathize with heroes who have been transformed into losers over the passage of time, like the central character in the Buggles’ song “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which is featured in the film.
Lee deploys the honest and pleasant scenery of the Korean countryside, which could seem banal, to provide a lyrical backdrop.
The story delves into the lives of a washed-up rock star and his devoted manager. Choi Gon, won a music award in the ’80s and is still caught in his past. Always dressed in a leather jacket and jeans, his damaged pride is pushed further towards the edge after he is sent to the town as the deejay of a radio program for a rundown station.
The rest of the film is made up of fragments of episodes as the residents call in to the station to ask banal questions, such as senior citizens confirming the rules of a card game and young unemployed people asking for help in finding a job. Gon runs the program in his own way, playing hard rock on his afternoon show while passing his microphone to a bargirl, who visits the station to fix him coffee.
The result is tastefully nostalgic without having to force the audience into a sentimental state. Perhaps the film owes a lot to its music, which is mostly made up of old pop classics mixed with modern rock by No Brain, a Korean punk rock band that actually stars in the film as the members of a band called “East River.”
Radio is almost a spent medium in Korea and its use here is a way to speak for the film’s heroes, who mostly live in the past, while the radio show’s music is soothing to their souls. The film deserves praise for the way it uses the banal anecdotes of its supporting characters to create emotional sideshows of their own.
The chemistry, of course, between Gon (played by Park Jung-hun) and Min-su (Ahn Seong-ki), his manager who almost seems to exist to turn Gon’s fantasy into reality, has never been better since their roles as a duo in past films like “Two Cops” and “Chilsu and Mansu.”
Perhaps “Radio Star” is a genuine reminder that the subject of a drama never makes a good story unless it is accompanied by the director’s keen interest in human relationships.
By Park Soo-mee Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org